Mark’s dad thought he would grow out of it. He didn’t.
What didn’t Mark grow out of? Bugs. Bugs bugs bugs – looking at them, thinking about them, learning from them.
Mark didn’t expect people to pay him to do it either, but they did. (He’s been a natural history and biology educator for over 20 years). Correction: at first, people paid him to show bugs to their kids. Not one to stay penned in, Mark forged conversations about bugs with adults (the difference in attention spans helped). When he gets a group of adults together, to talk about bugs, he asks them to define respect. Most—if not all—of the time, the definitions involve other people, e.g. treating others as we would wish to be treated. Mark starts with a linguistic slant: spect = “look”, re = “back/again.”
Look again. And again. And again. Mark can’t stress it enough: the more time you take to look at the world around you, and not just bugs but people too, you will never cease to be amazed. When Mark Berman says this, it’s neither trite nor hollow. It’s earnest … and it’s contagious. My seat for this TED event is at the far back of a pretty darn big room. Watching the audience as Mark talked, I did not have to look again too many times to see the delight and bemused amazement we all felt as Mark launched into the next part of his talk:
Bug video footage!
First up, a small little metallic wasp. Females build a single cell nest with great verve and careful calibration, vibrating their sizeable mandibles like a little drill into the ground, buzzing across the open plains where Mark often walks up and down, soaking it all in — when Mark gets particularly excited about bugs, he kind of starts to buzz about like one too. “You would never see it unless you took the time to stop and look again!” he says. The audience chimes in with applause.
Next, Mark admits he has a hard time answering the ‘what’s your favorite bug’ question. Pretty quickly after saying so, however, we learn it’s the jumping spider. They’re visual predators, very agile, and “one of the few bugs you can see think” (ants are another). “So interactive and with such excellent vision!” Mark comments, showing a scene of a spider tapping on glass, doing 8-point turns, trying to figure out what’s going on beneath the petridish cover. (Never a spider fan myself, Mark’s footage pretty quickly convinces me otherwise. Now I’m thinking – it is an adorable little many-legged thinking machine.) The second-biggest applause of the talk is earned when Mark shows the jumping spider coyly moving a fly wing away from its face to pose for the camera (previously it had refused to allow a profile shot).
The biggest applause? Garnered when Mark shows video footage of another jumping spider, an eager male woo-er approaching a less-than-enthused female mate. With the aid of the recordings of a powerful microphone, we grimace and cheer as this little bug works up a storm of audible clicks and vocalizations that become an increasingly insistent little sports car motor of sweet nothings. As he moves ever closer, the audience grows more and more involved. It ends well for the male, the audience cheers, and Mark smiles another big bug smile.
“You should get used to looking for and at new things,” Mark said to close his bug extravaganza. “You’re going to want to show it to people too. That’s how the world works.”